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A guide to writing winning proposals; what goes into a successful request for a new instrument or more staff?

A guide to writing winning proposals The more effectively you present your case, the more likely it is that you will gain administrative approval for a proposal. This article will try to improve your chances. We will focus on written business communication of all kinds, with particular emphasis on guidelines for writing winning proposals.

As a health care administrator who entered the field with no technical or scentific background, I can provide the perspective of a management generalist--one who has received many proposals and seen many mistakes in presentation during my decade in hospital administration.

People tend to write the same way they talk, which may add a welcome note of informality but often results in a presentation that is not well thought out. You must organize your thoughts to structure the presentation adequately:

* Define your objectives. These generally will fall into one or more of the following categories: relaying information, providing a directive, seeking ideas or recommendations, gaining support or approval, complaining about a problem, or commending exemplary performance.

* Identify the audience. The message is likely to vary depending on whom you are addressing. Obviously, different audiences have different concerns. You must also determine how much information the reader already has and how much information is needed for a response.

This may main drafting three different documents discussing the same chemistry analyzer that you want to acquire. For example, the copy sent to the pathologist should emphasize the instrument's technical attributes and briefly mention the impact on the lab's operating expenses.

In broad terms, a financial officer really doesn't care about how good the instrument is technically. He or she wants to know whether it's going to be more cost-effective than another analyzer and how much money it is expected to save. If you're sending a copy to the chemistry supervisor, you might stress how the instrument will handle the section's workload and make life easier for the staff.

* Establish the time frame. You must decide how quickly you need a response or action and then convey the appropriate sense of urgency. If it's imperative that you have a decision by a certain date, say so. Otherwise, the document may be relegated to the bottom of someone's paperwork pile.

* Determine the document's format. There are basically three types of documents--memos, letters, and formal reports or proposals. Letters are usually used to transmit information outside the organization. Internally, memos are by far the most widely circulated document and can be as brief as one paragraph or run for several pages. A formal report is designed to provide greater detail, and there are times when the memo and formal report overlap.

The audience often determines whether a memo or formal report will work best. Financial staff members seem to prefer the much longer proposal. Others in technical departments may decide they cannot possibly wade through all the data in a 20-page report.

That's why you should plan to include a cover memo with any formal report or proposal. This memo need not be long--one or two paragraphs will usually suffice. It concisely spells out what the attached report covers.

For example, the memo accompanying a proposal for upgrading chemistry instrumentation might state: "Attached is a proposal for the acquisition of two analyzers for the clinical chemistry lab. The cost of acquiring this equipment is $ , and we expect the lab to save $ . We need to have the proposal reviewed by (date) in order to respond to the vendor's offer. If you have any additional questions, please give me a call."

These few sentences quickly indicate what follows, establish the importance of the proposal, and state how much time the reader has to consider it. Since an entire report is commonly sent to all interested parties, it's also a good idea to note which sections merit each individual's attention.

A proposal for instrument acquisition will most likely circulate to the pathologist or medical director and to the financial officer or CEO. To save everyone time--and expedite the final decision--include detailed cost comparisons and technical data in separate appendices. Summarize key points in the text and refer the reader to the attached tables for any desired additional information.

Once you have worked out these various details, you're ready to begin translating your ideas into words. At this stage, I strongly recommend preparing an outline to help you determine exactly what you want to say and where in the document you want to say it.

The sample outlines in this article (Figures I and II) have the same structural components--introduction, background, analysis, alternative(s), recommendation(s), and summary. While these outlines can help the process along, they are meant merely to suggest the information you should include. Your final report may look quite different, depending on the issue and the organization's required format for proposals.

Figure I displays a sample outline for a request for capital equipment costing more than $100,000. The amount of justification an organization requires will generally increase in proportion to the cost of a requested item. A request for replacement equipment costing less than $25,000 might, for example, be limited to a memo, instead of being worked up into a formal proposal. Price aside, an organization may be more receptive to replacing essential equipment than to approving a brand new system.

Where the $100,000-plus purchase is backed up by projected cost savings and a number of supporting documents, the less expensive replacement equipment may be justified by a simple statement of the reason for its selection, the impact of not buying a replacement, and the impact to the operating budget, if applicable; supporting documents might consist of just a typed purchase request, a quotation from the vendor, and technical specifications.

The type of information required to gain approval for a staffing request is outlined in Figure II. Given my background as an administrative rather than technical manager, I've concentrated on the data I need to see. For example, it may seem simplistic in the introduction to identify the lab area initiating a request for a hematologist, and perhaps it is. Since I am responsible for 16 cost centers, however, I appreciate that kind of quick guidance.

By jotting down pertinent points and issues for the various sections of the outline, you begin to shape your ideas and organize the whole before expanding on individual sections. This process formalizes your thoughts and forces you to review the objectives. If the goal is to replace equipment, you might make the following note: "I need to identify what equipment I'm looking at, what it's going to replace, and determine the cost and proposed method of acquisition." Thus the outline helps insure that critical information is not omitted.

With the outline formed, it is time to start writing. Here are guidelines for that task:

* Aim for clarity. Try to write as informally and as clearly as possible. Jargon is appropriate at times, but don't overuse it. Define terms where necessary. You don't have to tell a pathologist what a discrete random access analyzer is, unless you want to sound patronizing. You had better define it for a hospital administrator, though. Otherwise, he or she won't understand why that kind of instrument would be such an asset.

* Be consistent. That not only means using words and phrases in the same way throughout the text, but also always bearing in mind what you are trying to achieve. One common writing mistake is to go off on a tangent at the expense of your objectives. For example, if you are addressing a financial officer about a proposed instrument acquisition, your goal should be to make the financial arrangements clear and to spell out the benefits of acquiring one instrument over all other available systems. Pages and pages about an instrument's technical attributes will be wasted on a financial officer. If you really believe that such a description is warranted, put it in a table in the appendix.

* Start with the larger issue, and then go into the detail. Place the summary data in the text, and save the exhaustive information for the appendix.

* Provide only the relevant facts. But be sure to include all the data necessary for the reader to digest the proposal and respond appropriately. The longer the document, the more important it is to summarize the issue at the beginning. A cover memo can help lead the reader to your conclusions.

* Make the document readable. Keep the text concise. Make the report flow. It should have a beginning, middle, and end, and the reader should be able to tell which is which. Break the text up by using headers, numbers, tabs, indexes, and appendices.

* Interpret the facts for the reader. If the laboratory wants to add or refill a position, document why and how you are understaffed. Use workload recording statistics to justify the request. If the staffing shortage is more a matter of an irreducible minimum, say so. For example, explain that the night shift requires two technologists to keep the operation going regardless of productivity. If you let the facts speak for themselves--"we normally have two people on the night shift, and one has just resigned"--they may not say what you want to get across.

* Anticipate questions, and answer them. Assess the various levels of expertise of those perusing the proposal and make sure the document measures up. Otherwise, you're likely to find the report back on your desk with requests for additional data or clarification.

* Follow your organization's format. If the hospital requires a formal policy statement when a new procedure is proposed, don't forget to write one. If all purchasing requests must include a detailed cost/benefit analysis, get a copy of a previously approved proposal and use the same format.

* Include appropriate forms. If your institution has standard capital-purchase request forms or employment requisitions forms--and most do--attach a copy. In other words, go beyond telling someone what you want to do; make it easy by providing the documents that person needs to process the request. If a vendor offers a price break for a limited time only, spell out the need for prompt action and attach a conditional purchase order. This locks in the lower price, but also specifies that the final offer is contingent on review by legal affairs and approval by hospital administration.

* Coordinate communication. Your exhaustively prepared proposal should not come as a complete surprise to those receiving it. You can see that it doesn't by raising your ideas in meetings and following up with periodic progress reports to the potential recipients. Make sure everyone understands that this is all leading to a formal proposal.

* Have the final draft reviewed. It's always advisable to have someone else look at what you have written. Asking colleagues or your immediate supervisor to play devil's advocate is the best way to nail down any loose ends in your presentation. And always proofread the final copy, both for typographical errors and to be certain that it truly says what you want it to say.

* Observe the chain of command. Make sure your boss knows what you're up to even if authority to approve the request resides at a higher level of management. The final product should ideally reflect your immediate supervisor's input and support and possibly carry his or her signature. At the very least, you should note that this person has received a courtesy copy.

Follow these guidelines and you should produce polished memos and proposals that any administrator would be pleased to read.
COPYRIGHT 1986 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Werninghaus, Kimberly A.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Jun 1, 1986
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